Friday, February 28, 2014

Whistleblower = Truth Teller (Reporters Need Them)

What a shame there wasn't a whistleblower at the Chevy Cobalt plant back in 2004.   As USAToday.com reports, General Motors knew before the first Cobalt was sold that there was a problem with the ignition.   

"GM concedes it knew in 2004, before launching the 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt, that the ignition switch might inadvertently move from "run" to "accessory," stalling the engine and cutting power to safety systems."

It wasn't the fault of the engineers.   They suggested solutions.   None was adopted.  What else could they have done?   They could have been a truth teller, a whistleblower, and it would have been a whistle that would have saved lives.   This country, any democracy, needs whistleblowers.   But it's getting harder for those who want to tell the truth.

We have an administration attacking and doing everything it can to silence whistleblowers.   From Der Spiegel to Salon from blogs to the Washington Post, you can read the disappointing news of an administration dedicated to punishing those so appalled by what they've seen they are compelled to tell the truth.   What the administration should be doing is saying it's time to get tough on crime.    The corporate executive who makes the decision to sell a product with a known safety defect, particularly one that can kill people, shouldn't be getting a bonus.   The executive should be getting prosecuted.

For reporters, the GM recall gives them an easy question for their members of Congress.   Should corporate executives be punished, should they be prosecuted, for knowingly selling a product with a known safety defect?   In most cases since we have the best Congress money can buy, the answer will be no.   But ask the simple follow-up question:  why?  

Read the articles on the North Carolina coal ash spill.   Three paragraphs from the New York Times article demonstrate again why public safety so requires whistleblowers.

     From the NYT:   Last year, the environment agency's budget for water pollution programs
                               was cut by 10.2 percent, a bipartisan commission that approves regulations
                               was reorganized to include only Republican appointees, and the governor
                               vastly expanded the number of agency exempt from civil service protections
                               to 179 from 24. 

                               The effect, said midlevel supervisors who now serve at the pleasure of
                               the governor, is that they are hesitant to crack down on polluters who 
                               might complaint to Mr. Skvarla or a lawmaker, at the risk of their jobs.
                               Several spoke anonymously out of fear of being fired.

                               "They want to have a hammer to come down on anybody who hinders
                               developers by enforcing regulations," said a supervisor whose department
                               is supposed to regulate businesses under laws devised to protect water
                               quality.  "We're scared to death to say no to anyone anymore."

Think of that.  Employees are afraid to do what's right to protect public safety out of fear of losing their jobs.   A whistleblower may have prevented the North Carolina disaster.   We'll have a safer and more honest world if we encourage and reward whistleblowers and enact mandatory prison time for corporate executives who make decisions that intentionally put public safety at risk.


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